Here I am, standing at the top of a parking garage. I park here all the time. It’s convenient. The ticket taker, a small man named Boo, he knows me. I stare out across the rooftops, my pants blowing in the wind. I could fall if I wanted to. It’s sad, I think, because I know I won’t feel my head cracking open on the concrete. I imagine it would be like a Wonka Gobbstopper splitting open between my teeth – all sorts of chalky colors would crumble out-pinks, oranges, greens, blues. A whole life of TV shows, phone calls, restaurant tip totals and 4 a.m. fantasies would crawl out like ants. The discount shoe-store is down there. From my perch on the seventh floor I can see the tops of people’s heads, hats and perms, as they go in to save up to 65 percent.
I am thinking if it’s worth it to stick around. Boo, a parking garage attendant, he always seems happy. I asked him one time: Why are you so happy all the time? He said I don’t know. I’ve stood up on this ledge four times this week. Nobody looks up and sees me. As always I’ll wimp out and go home and make some chicken and rice and go to bed. Watch Leno. Soak my feet in oatmeal. Eat a pack of gum. There’s something very appealing about the next world this week.
Perhaps, in the next world, I won’t have gypsies steal my driver’s license, forcing me to drive two hours in heavy traffic to the DMV on Hope Street. I hate the DMV. It makes me nervous. People bring their children there. They wail and crawl about my ankles like rats. Whenever I open the door to my apartment I see my hands are dry. The wind chaps them. Even my furry cacti on the balcony have given up. The sun is king here. This is California. Perhaps in the next world the rain falls when it’s supposed to.
I need groceries. When you live alone you buy full meals. Chicken in little plastic purses. Eggs and bacon. Frozen ham and gravy. As I drive in my shivering moss green Toyota Tercel, I watch humankind feeding on itself. It is Halloween today and three guys in clown suits walk up and down the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Barrington begging me to buy handlebar mustaches and plastic axes at their Halloween superstore across the street. During the year the Halloween superstore is a Mexican grocery. I wonder what they do with all the jars of pickled pig’s feet and cilantro greens? I bought a Pharaoh costume for a party last year. I danced with a woman named Sheila. She was two hundred pounds and was a zookeeper. She said my costume smelled like garlic.
I am almost past the Halloween place when one of the clowns knocks on my car door. It scares me. People should not go into the street at this hour. I could have a gun. He tries to hand me a coupon. I shake my head. He knocks on my car again. Harder. Urgently. His fingernails are long. He tries to thrust the coupon through the crack in my window. NO THANK YOU, I say. I DON’T WANT IT! I can hear him say asshole, under his sweating plastic mask. I shake my head at him – Leave me alone for Christ sakes. It’s hot out, even a day before November, so he takes off his mask and walks away when my light turns green. From the sidewalk he flashes a rotted smile and flicks me off.
I’m always driving. That’s living in Los Angeles. You live in your front seat. Your knowledge comes from the radio. On the freeway on the way to the DMV earlier today a big-rig was on fire. It took up the left three lanes. A woman wearing her underwear and a striped bumblebee suit, complete with antennae, was weeping. Her daughter, naked except for the torn Twister board that covered her body lay prone on the cement, unconscious. White foam dotted the girl’s upper lip. The woman was screaming at the firemen to put out her 2006 Mercedes SUV. The mother poked her daughter with her forefinger and shouted Christie, Christie. There was a pop and just like that, her car exploded. God damn you, I heard her scream at the big-rig driver who sat with the paramedics. You motherfucker! The other drivers lazily turned their necks towards the crash and then turned away. The winds were fanning the fire and the mother dragged her daughter across the asphalt on her Twister board so she wouldn’t get burned.
As I drove past the wreck at five miles per hour I could feel the fire through my windows. The man on the radio said that half the state would soon be in flames. Like my cacti, everything was withering, turning to dust. The president was flying out for a special visit. He only comes here when there are disasters. Which is often. In a month there will be mudslides in La Jolla and Calabasas. The president told the radio reporter, cheerfully, that he just had to see it for himself.
And it was something. Up and down the coast the canyons echoed with a monstrous roar of death, the tinderbox of brush and parched vegetation from Malibu to Escondido howled with the Santa Ana winds, pushing the National Guard with their boots and floppy hoses into the ocean. On TV we watched the mayor’s house explode like a firecracker. He mourned his baseball card collection.
My landlord came by as I was eating chicken at 9 p.m. by myself. I was listening to my tape recorder. I had left it in an old shoe of mine in front of the Troubadour nightclub two nights ago. I had placed the shoe behind the garbage can near where the bouncer lets all the pretty things in for “Disco Wednesdays.” My apartment was so quiet and I hated quiet so I often recorded voices to fill all the space. The voices weren’t too clear but I did make out one back-and-forth between the bouncer, who was called “Duke” and what appeared to be one of his former lovers. She tried to sweet-talk him into letting her in for no cover and he said, Get in line, miss, and then she screamed at him for pretending to not know her.
It’s me, Duke, it’s me! she cried out. Apparently she had never loved someone like she had loved Duke. She said this to him but he just said Get in line, please, again and then she yelled Are you serious? and he said Look at my face, and she said You fucking bastard, Duke and he said Back the fuck up, you little ho. She started crying and her crying sounded like ambulance sirens and howling wolves. Duke didn’t say anything after that. My landlord knocked on my door.
“Chester! Why are you still here?”
“What do you mean?” I wondered if he knew about my desire to climb the parking garage and jump down to my death. Was I that obvious? Did I have that look?
“Haven’t you been watching your TV?”
“I was eating,” I said. “Chicken cacciatore with mushroom ragu.”
“Pack up,” he said. “I’ll take you in my car.”
“Why are you still here?” I asked through a mouthful.
“I’m always the last one out. For Christ-sakes, can’t you smell it?”
“What?” I said.
“The pool hall burned up,” he said. “Bronsons.”
“The one on Wilshire?”
“Yeah,” he said. “The fire’s moving like a bat out of hell.”
My landlord was a friendly old guy named Kit Carson. He did a few TV shows in the fifties and sixties as a juggler and plate-spinner and never left L.A. He showed me 16mm projections of his glory years on his living room wall. Now he wobbled over to my screen-door and led me out onto the balcony. We both started coughing. Far away, above the drowsy palms, fires danced along the hills. The air was thick as snot.
“Mother of mercy,” he rasped, shoving me back inside. “Hurry up.”
Like me and Kit, half a million people were wandering from their homes in pajamas, loading hastily-stuffed suitcases into our minivans.
Los Angeles is a city of catastrophes I thought as Kit drove onto the freeway – a paradise of booms and busts, palatial pools and dimpled deserts, collapsing overpasses and fifty-million-dollar homes that slide into the sea. What the hell were the Spanish thinking when they came in and took it from the Indians? Kit said there was nowhere to stay in L.A. so we rode the empty 5 freeway to San Diego. Tonight I would sleep on a cot in a domed football stadium.
Though most of my fellow refugees pretended to be miserable, (the Navy-issued blankets were scratchy, the Astroturf smelled like urine) I was honest with my happiness at this latest calamity. I loved this. I could write in my diary that something extraordinary had happened today – I could make phone calls and say Guess where I am. I had dinner at the hot-dog stand behind the bleachers. Where else would I rather be? I hated my apartment. I hated the elevator that brought me up to it, with its stained checkered ceiling and faded emergency buttons. I hated my mailbox. I hated my shower curtain. I hated my toothbrush holder. I really hated the generic “Pollock-like” paintings in my hallway. Plus all those doors. Most of them had Thai-restaurant fliers hanging around the doorknobs. Behind all those doors were people who I would never know or want to know. There was a sex-offender who lived next to me. He hadn’t reported that he was a sex-offender and so at one in the morning they dragged him out of his bed. He wore purple velvet slippers.
I’ve always liked stadiums. Fifty thousand hearts stuffed into one metal receptacle. I hadn’t been this excited since my mother died. In the stadium I was a part of something. This was my September 11th. Red Cross nurses came down the aisles and served us coffee and donuts. I chatted with a family who had had brought their five Dobermans. I let them lap my legs. As a lullaby, the massive P.A. speakers blasted Take Me Out To The Ballgame. I stood and removed my hat and following my lead, several others did as well. As I sang along with the other twenty thousand of my displaced brethren with my toes on the 35-yardline, my eyes misted. Who wrote this song again? I wanted to kiss him. The last few words were so beautiful.
And the hooooooome of theeeeeeee braaaaaave.
We clapped and then they dimmed the lights.
“Good night,” Kit said from his cot on the 37-yardline.
“Isn’t this great?” I cried.
“What?” he said crankily.
“Good night,” I said, smiling.
– Z.N. Lupetin graduated from the College of Literature, Science and the Arts in 2007